Updated: Dec 28, 2020
I belong to an exclusive club called ‘Those of us left behind after a suicide.’ Though exclusive, it's not a pleasant club. There are no leisure activities, no dream vacations. No one ever applies for this club membership. Many members do not even want you to know they are in the club. In this club, members deal with grief. They must also take on two different types of grief; one for their own life, left bereft and empty because their loved one is gone, and another one, a deep mourning for the sad life of that loved one.
Unless you have experienced losing someone to suicide, you can never understand what it's like. You may know members of this club, and they may tell you about their experiences -- they may even stand before you and cry, thrash, and scream. Others may be stoic, offering tight little smiles, assuring you that “Everything’s OK, thanks for asking.” But unless it has happened to you, you can never fully understand the depths of their pain, and as much as you may want to help them, you can't be part of The Club.
My brother Gary and I were very close. I helped him to cope with his depression as best as I could; I was his rock. He had attempted suicide twice before and failed. I had always suspected he would die by his own hand one day, and I thought I had accepted it and would be prepared for it. I wasn't. I was not prepared at all. I was not prepared for the phone call that informed me of his death.
I never imagined I would lose control like I did, running and screaming up and down the hallway, out the front door and throwing myself on the grass, pounding it and sobbing, “No! No! No!” I never wanted my 3-year-old daughter to see something like this, her mother totally out of control, utterly devastated and inconsolable beyond words. I didn't want my neighbours to come running over and drag me inside the house screaming. This was not in the plan of my Perfect Life. I didn't plan to be a pallbearer at my brother's funeral or deliver his eulogy in perfect composure to make him proud of me. No, I was not prepared. Nothing could have steeled me against this news. It hit me hard, and then it knocked me down. I could barely get up. I knew everything had changed, from that moment forward. There was no turning back.
When Gary died, my whole life changed dramatically. My marriage failed, and I had to go back to work on a full-time basis. Then I was dealt another blow to test me that little bit further. Only a few months after Gary’s death, I was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease, a debilitating, painful disease.
Naturally, I did not cope with things very well at all right after Gary’s death. I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach, knocking all the breath out of me. When I woke up every morning, all I wanted to do was turn over and go back to sleep, never leaving the relative safety and peace of unconsciousness. I wanted the world to stop and take notice of my brother’s death; there were times that I wanted to talk about this to someone and everyone. I couldn’t understand how the world kept turning, how people in the shops and at work kept smiling, going about their days. My brother had just died! “Wait a minute! Just stop for a moment!” I kept thinking. “How can anyone, even strangers, go out for drinks and dinner tonight? My brother is dead!” I felt raw, as though every nerve were exposed. I felt transparent, as though everyone looked at me and could see my pain.
This kind of thought process went on for some time. But once I accepted that this change in my life was “forever,” I very slowly started to put the pieces of my life back together. There were some pretty significant building blocks to attend to, and once in a while, a few would come toppling down, even despite my best efforts. So I would return, again and again, to hoist them back up.
Yet, Gary’s death brought about many more changes in my life; changes that ironically propelled me forward in life. If he had not died, I truly doubt that I would have become a blogger. Most probably, I would still be living in the Blue Mountains, making jam and volunteering to help teach art at my children's school.
Because I grieved so heavily for my brother, I lost all interest in food, and I began to experience stomach ailments that I was sure stemmed from the stress of his death. My weight plummeted to 47kg, and I became even more depressed.
One day I was walking the dog and one of my neighbours said to me, "Deb, you look dreadful. Don't put your brother behind you -- put him beside you and walk on." Those few words changed everything, and to this day, I am sure my neighbour Patrick does not know to what extent his words reached me and how powerfully they resonated within me.
I made a decision that day. I knew I had to accept that Gary was no longer with me. I had to adjust to this and gather inner strength from somewhere. I thought, Well, his death is just one of the challenges I have to face. There have been other challenges, and I had overcome them. But I did not know that this would rock me to my core, measuring and testing my strength to the extent it did. I did not know how much it would take out of me to accept his death – mentally, physically, and emotionally. It was an easy thing to say, but it was not going to be easy to do. Thankfully, I didn’t know that then. I look back to that time now and wonder, “How on earth did I ever cope with this?”
I still would give up everything I have today to have Gary back, but I also admit that if it were not for his death, I would not be who and where I am today. I accepted the change in my life slowly, and today I am doing things that I would never have thought I was capable of. Even as devastating as this experience was, I taught myself to gather strength that I never knew I even had -- and that's why you are reading these words right now.
For help www.beyondblue.org.au